Gentlemen Broncos

Posted October 29, 2009 in Film

Like Diane Arbus, Jared and Jerusha Hess make films that skate imperceptibly close to exploiting the underdog. The difference is, I believe Arbus’ defense is that she respected her subjects. When frat guys dance like Napoleon Dynamite, who is the joke on? Gentlemen Broncos is their latest, the story of a poor teen named Benjamin (Michael Angarano) who has his first novel swiped by his hero, wealthy sci-fi author Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement, hilariously pretentious). Torn between their two visions and that of a local filmmaker, the novel itself is reworked by three imaginations within the film, two starring Sam Rockwell as the yeast-eating space traveler who seeks vengeance for his stolen testicle. (Sample dialogue: “You took my nads!”) The gap between a writer’s words and the onscreen result is fun material, but it’s buried under a gross residue. It’s not just the projectile vomiting or the snake diarrhea. It’s the shlick, shlick sound as Benjamin gives his bossy crush Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) an over-lotioned hand massage and the way local director Lonnie (Hector Jimenez) grins as though his lips hate his teeth. By contrast, Jennifer Coolidge, a talent usually used as the tackiest thing in a movie, is treated with glammed-down sympathy—though in the course of the film, she’s still shot in the arrow with a shit-tipped dart, propositioned like a hooker by a nightgown magnate and romancing a mulleted Mike White. There’s just one moment that breaks free of mortification: the local low-budget film crew grinning as they cruise down Main Street, using the wind to make the hero’s hair soar. I imagine that’s how the Hesses feel making their movies. I wish it felt the same watching them.


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